Friday, May 14, 2021
Black Leadership Development’s Checkered History
By Larry Aubry
Published June 15, 2017

Larry Aubry (File Photo)

Author Adolph Reed’s book, The Jug and its Con­tents: A Perspective on Black Political Develop­ment raises controversial but provocative questions about Black leadership and the devolving state of the “Black community.” His basic argument is the idea that there is a cohesive Black collectivity or iden­tity is a myth. He attempts to show why this myth was necessary after the Civil War in order to present a semblance of unity.

Later on, Black leader­ship, including W.E. Du­bois’s Talented Tenth, could then claim to represent this “unified community,” and they defined the specific in­terests of the “Black com­munity.”

Blacks were treated by others as an undifferentiat­ed whole with no divisions or differences of opin­ions on significant issues. Working within the narrow opportunities provided by the segregation era, Black leaders became “middle-men” (brokers) between Blacks and the white power structure. This meant that many Black leaders were “putative” (supposed) lead­ers- or assumed to be so by white people.


Any effort to raise ques­tions or to articulate a dif­ferent point of view from that of the Black leader­ship elite was attacked as “creating disunity” and “inauthentic.” Reed con­cluded the myth of a single Black collectivity is a so­cial construction of reality put together from cultural fragments and remnants of Black adaptations from the era of slavery to the early period of Jim Crow. These two myths—that Blacks constitute a single collec­tive identity and the myth of Black authenticity— have prevented the devel­opment of a differentiated politics based on real dif­ferences and interests with­in the Black community.

Reed attacks “Black Power” ideology as ab­stract, idealistic, and not connected to the real poli­tics of Black people be­cause it dismissed the reality of politics Blacks practiced and replaced it with a utopian scheme. The emphasis on self-help is conservative and bourgeois because self-help ideolo­gies do not challenge the existing social system and also place the burden for change on the victims of that system.

Reed says it is ironic that what is needed is a form of “interest group lib­eralism” in what passes for the “unified Black commu­nity.” Interest group liber­alism assumes that there are divergent and often conflicting interests within any large group. The de­nial of these differences has allowed self-proclaimed leaders, often made by the media to define the inter­ests of Blacks and to be un­challenged in doing so.

A differentiated Black collectivity leads to coali­tions with other collec­tives, leadership that is ac­countable to specific Black constituencies and real democracy within what is called the Black commu­nity. Blacks are as diverse as everyone else and the de­nial of that simple fact has benefited mostly the Black bourgeoisie and its bene­factors outside of the Black community.

Essentially, he argues both served the interests of capitalism. Moreover, he asserts both integra­tion and Black power have aided in the reconstitution of domination, not only of Blacks but also over all of society. He concludes there is no real opposition to the administrative apparatus (government and corpora­tions) that serve capital­ism. This is due in part to the failure of the opposition and not merely to systemic repression.

Since the early 1970s, the Black movement has been pacified and depo­liticized so that true eman­cipation seems impossible to many. Racial segregation was dismantled, but Black employment, median in­come, availability of hous­ing and life expectancy did not improve from 1964 through the early 1990s. But the middle-class tends to generalize its gains as if they were the gains of the Black community because its interests and power rest on a monolithic conception of Black life.


Reed says egalitarian­ism and social rational­ity appealed to the civil rights movement and to capitalism. Egalitarianism stressed the immorality of segregation and how seg­regation was an obstacle to the market and to eco­nomic progress. The end of segregation opened up avenues for new forms of domination over Blacks. In addition, the radical fac­tion of the Black movement did not critique the alli­ance of the Black elite with corporate liberalism. The Black power movement’s assumption that there was a Black political interest represented by community leaders strengthened the Black elite.

Reed maintains the de­cline of serious Black op­position to the status quo was due in part to an ideol­ogy that fit into mainstream American ideology. The Black opposition was inte­grated into the system in a way that strengthened the system rather than chal­lenged it. A new mode of domination developed that domesticated negativity by creating places where these ideas could be expressed— (ethnic studies programs, cultural centers, etc.). In this way, opposition was pacified. He maintained these groups were examples of “artificial negativity,” by which he means groups that are critical, but in ways that fail to challenge the system.

However, Reed thinks opposition is pos­sible. He suggests buying off groups only works as long as the number of such groups is limited. But more and more, status groups— women, LGBT, disabled and other minorities- are competing for shrinking opportunities available in the private sector and gov­ernment.

His remedies include: Break the Black elite’s con­trol over ideas in the Black community; critique their programs in order to “…… transcend the official Black posture of quiet accep­tance of any initiative that includes an affirmative ac­tion component”; recognize the diverse interests in the Black community.

For Reed, there is a need for a critical, democratic Black political culture, and political liberalism is the first step to break the Black elite’s monolithic control.

Categories: Larry Aubry | Opinion
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